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Who do we owe?

By Staff | Oct 11, 2013

It’s a fact that our national debt is $16.7 trillion and climbing, but have you wondered just what our national debt consists of? There are some of you who will probably say that a lot of it comes from borrowing money from China to pay for our programs. But is it really that simple?

No, unfortunately it’s not. About a third of our national debt is owed to foreign nations, and even that has to be broken down. If you are to look at it another way, the U.S. is borrowing money from just about any and everybody.

We owe $1.28 trillion to China, $1.14 trillion to Japan, $288 billion to banks in the Caribbean, $258 billion to oil exporting nations, and $256 billion to Brazil. Those are the bigger chunks of debt owed to foreign countries. There are still smaller chunks though. We also owe $13 billion to Denmark, $14 billion to South Africa, $15 billion to Peru, $16 billion to Malaysia, $21 billion to Israel, $22 billion to Spain, $27 billion to Italy, $29 billion apiece to the Netherlands and Chile, $32 billion apiece to Poland and Sweden, $33 billion apiece to Colombia and Australia. (Source: CNN Money infographic) It’s a big list that also includes Taiwan, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Belgium, Russia, Luxembourg, the Phillipines, Thailand, Russia, Ireland, the U.K, Canada, Norway, Mexico, India and Germany. The debt on this list is over $5.3 trillion.

I know what you’re saying now. “Yeah, but Bryce, there’s still $11.4 trillion unaccounted for.” I’m getting to that.

$4.8 trillion is owed to intragovernmental holdings. Why? Because these agencies took in more money from taxes than they needed at one time or another and bought treasuries with it. When that happens, money gets transferred to our nation’s general fund and they’re left with treasury notes that should one day be redeemed for cash. Social Security owns the most treasuries, about a whopping $2.72 trillion of them. Also on the list is FDIC, Health & Human Services, the Dept. of Labor, the Treasury Dept., the Dept. of Transportation, and the Office of Personnel Management.

We owe trillions to the Federal Reserve (which has effectively been printing money by creating demand for treasuries, purchasing them with credit it created), pension and retirement funds, state and local governments, mutual funds, banks, insurance companies, savings bonds, trusts and investors.

I know a long time ago I wrote that our government shouldn’t keep on kicking the can down the road and extending the debt ceiling beyond what it can pay. However, if the executive and legislative branches can’t reach a settlement, if our nation defaults on its financial obligations then it shouldn’t matter whether Republicans or Democrats are at fault. They both will be at fault because they could agree despite all other nations’ warnings. Those other nations won’t be happy, and nor should you.

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